Finally, I had the opportunity to play with some new Sony gear. Yes, it’s the new A7 I’m talking about. Mirrorless and full frame at the same time, A7 is the camera many photographers dreamed about for a long time. Full frame cameras are around for years, but not until recently all of them were either big and heavy DSLR models or insanely expensive Leica. Just around last Christmas, Sony released RX1, a full-frame compact with fixed 35mm F/2 lens. Nothing like this was produced before and it became apparent it is only a matter of time Sony would release full frame mirrorless cameras. So now we have A7 and A7R which are very similar models. A7 has 24 megapixels, 117 phase detect AF points on the main image sensor and can shoot 5fps. A7R has 36 megapixel sensor with AA filter removed, 25 contrast detect AF points, shoots at a bit slower 4fps and has more magnesium parts (dials, back plate…). Both cameras are weather sealed, have tilt LCD, 2.5 million electronic viewfinders, 1/8000 shutter speed and records videos up to 1920 x 1080 @ 60p. Impressive.
Preview and sample shots by Ivan Ivančić
Camera product shots by Marko Šolić
The A7 has solid and very well built body. Grip is just about big enough to allow secure and comfortable handling and yet small enough not to become big like DSLR models. A7 uses tri-navi control system just like the NEX-7, only difference is placement of second dial which is now at the front. This is in fact better solution since I could control each of them with separate fingers. They control aperture and shutter speed, and the third (back side) dial is linked to ISO value. On top of all that, Sony reused the exposure compensation dial from RX1 and placed it on ergonomically excellent position near the thumb.
A7 also has several customizable buttons so it’s very easy to adjust camera controls to personal taste. I used Sony A7 only several hours so it’s hard to say if Sony succeeded in creating a camera that is comfortable and easy to use for the long term, but as far as I could see there are no major complaints.
Menu system is a variant of the one found in Alpha SLR and SLT models and easy to navigate. I feared they would use that dreadful NEX-styled menu, but Sony knew better this time.
Overall camera response is just what I expected: somewhat slow. Memory card write times, playback, zoom and menus are fast, but it still takes two or three second to start up and allow the first shot to be taken. DSLR can take the first shot in a fraction of a second and this is where not a single mirrorless camera can compete.
Hybrid AF system used in A7 has 117 phase detect AF points and is very snappy in use. In good light, it is almost as fast as average DSLR using phase detection. A7R uses only contrast detect points, so I expect that one to focus like NEX models. A7R is meant to be used for landscape or studio work so that should not be an issue.
Sony A7 lens mount is made for the new FE lenses, but is works with older APS-C E-mount lenses. Since these were not made to cover full frame image circle, they will either show significant light fall-off or will be used in crop mode. I don’t see a valid reason to use those lenses on full frame A7 or A7R since you will either get cropped image (more than half of the sensor you paid for is wasted) or you get significant vignetting and would have to crop an image in post process (image below taken with E-mount 18-55).
Alpha-mount full frame lenses can be attached and used with an adapter, as is the case with any other lenses which had adapters for E-mount (almost all of them; Canon, Nikon, M42, Leica M etc… kep in mind, there is no AF and in some cases not even aperture control with those lenses).
I used A7 with the “affordable” 28-70mm kit lens with F/3,5-5,6 aperture. It is built mostly from plastic (it has metal mount though), but it feels quite solid and optically good. An interesting detail is the distance of the 28-70′s back element to the sensor. It is around 2.5 cm long (1″) which leads me to believe that Sony designed normal A-mount 28-70 and then made the lens mount longer in order to avoid close flange-to-back distance optical issues. Anyway, if it works I don’t how care how it was designed.
Connectivity is quite good; A7 has mini HDMI and USB outputs, 3.5mm microphone input and 3.5mm headphone output suitable for video aficionados. Wi-Fi and NFC are also built-in.
LCD and EVF offer excellent visibility, but LCD is still too dark in daylight (especially when smudged). EVF is top quality and it can only be compared to the one used by the Olympus E-M1.
As far as the pricing goes, new mirrorless full-frame cameras from Sony will dig a big hole in your pocket. A7 will sell for $1700 and A7R will cost $2300. A7 with the kit lens (28-70) will be priced at $2000. At the time of first availability (December 2013), only two of the lenses will be avilable; 28-70mm and 35mm F/2.8. 24-70 F/4 and 55 F1.8 will be released in early 2014, and Sony claims there could be up to 15 lenses in the next two years period. We’ll have to wait and see.
After my short time with the new A7, I am sure Sony has an excellent product. Image quality appears to be top notch and the cameras work and feel splendid. Only one question remains: will the users adopt it? These are not cheap cameras and the native lenses will be very expensive. Sony will have to attract users traditionally inclined to Canon and Nikon and this will not be easy. I will post a detailed review as soon as I get this camera for at least a week, and am looking forward to it.
(Image samples on Page 2)